McManus: Jarrett at Carnegie

February 12th 2009 02:26 pm

Copyright © 2009 Jill McManus

Free Suite and Six Encores

by Jill McManus

In his Carnegie Hall solo concert on Thursday, January 29, pianist Keith Jarrett freely improvised pieces that showed his mastery of jazz, classical, contemporary, gospel and other styles, keeping the sold-out house silent and engrossed. At the 10-foot unamplified Steinway, dressed in black with a gold vest, he sometimes slouched, sometimes stood in a crouch stamping the beat, and occasionally chanted. His rapport with the audience seemed built-in, and it deepened as the night progressed.

His opening piece was atonal, almost pointillist, with pools of sound stirred by counterpoint. He created glistening icicles of sound in the piano’s highest register above pedaled bass chords, followed with a romantic piece full of contemporary yet also classical harmonies, then a brisk, rockish jaunt zig-zagging like free jazz and a sostenuto mood set by restful trills, chords peacefully rising and falling, and consonant ripples. The crowd, perhaps more partial to that than jazz, cheered loudly. Jarrett continued with a funky, mid-tempo bluesy thing and a lively two-minutes-long folk dance, ending impressionistically with sweet ideas in the upper register.

Jarrett kicked off the second half with a masterful rampage of furioso playing, one of the highlights of the night for this listener. He hovered and swayed over the keyboard, bouncing from one foot to the other as he laid down fleet flurries of notes, a rainstorm becoming a tidal wave of arpeggios that gradually slowed to delicious out-of-tempo dissonances. Each note rang with such clarity it was hard to believe he was creating it on the spot. In a more serene piece with a gospel feel, he seemed to like the ending, so he repeated it, commenting to an amused audience, “This studio has more people in it than any I╒ve ever recorded in.” Another of the evening’s highlights was a ballad in the Bill Evans style with long glowing ribbons of melody and a rich pattern of chord changes. More cheers. Jarrett was at the mic again, saying, “Never be in this situation in your life. You╒ve been playing for 60 years and you don’t know anything about the instrument. Well … maybe a little.” Revealing a bit more of his storehouse of sounds, he set off on a rhythmic dance that suggested raga and Middle-Eastern chants.

The crowd’s stomping got him to return for six encores: a plaintive “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (aha, a melody we know!), “Miss Otis Regrets,” a dazzling “Carolina Shout” with a left hand pattern of his own devising, the ballad “Where Are You,” “Angel Eyes” (did we hear “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” in there?) and a bluesy march. Clearly delighted with the audience, Jarrett admitted between encores, “It’s possible to feel connected with a room full of people. When it happens, there’s nothing like it.” Someone in the departing crowd commented, “That was really the full ‘Keith Jarrett experience!’”

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